By Sharee Silerio
We often count the days, weeks and months since we lost the ones we love, but it always feels like it just happened yesterday.
Have you ever been through a storm and could feel the sun, just for the clouds and rain to swiftly cover its glory? Have you ever felt like you were just starting to “feel normal," then another crush to your heart brings you deeper into despair?
This is what it felt like on May 3, 2016, when my Uncle Nell passed. He wasn’t the first family member to go, but he was the one I was closest to. On a Tuesday evening, my mom and I were walking back to her house after exercising when my grandma called. I can still feel the moment she told me that Nell passed; the angst that rushed out of my throat as I yelled “No!” The river of pain that flowed from my eyes; the morning after that felt like it was all a dream.
Nell was one of my best friends. I could be myself and talk to him on the phone for hours without being bored. I could share my doubts, fears, and insecurities. He never judged me, but loved and uplifted me.
Between February and June of 2016, a member of my family died each month – five people. My husband’s grandmother lost her battle with cancer, our nephew passed due to complications from an asthma attack, and my uncle died due to blocked arteries.
Each of these losses – individually and collectively – were a reality check, revealing the healing I needed from a lifetime of pain.
I hadn’t spoken to my uncle in several months, maybe a year, before he died. To be honest, I don’t even know exactly how long it was, but the wedge between us began as his mental illness got worse. He became paranoid, verbally aggressive and erratic. One evening, when my husband and I were at the grocery store, he called me. As I was having a conversation with him, my husband and I laughed about something going on in the store. He thought that my husband was talking about him, so he threatened to beat him up. The moment before this was the last time I felt safe around him.
As his casket was being lowered into the grave during the burial, I became trapped in a net of guilt and regret. I felt awful that I let Nell’s mental illness separate us instead of forgiving his episodes for the sake of our relationship.
For weeks, I struggled to get “back on track," although I had no idea how to get there. I worked as a business manager at a counseling center and couldn’t focus on my tasks. It was also difficult for me to do the things I wanted and planned to do before Nell died. I was depressed, lost and anxious. A few days later, I started weekly counseling sessions.
During therapy, we started with the grief from my losses and worked backwards. It was easier than I thought, and I began to believe that it was okay for me to release the guilt I felt about disconnecting from Nell, in addition to the hurt and disappointment from the way he treated me and the love of my life.
Eventually, I found that forgiveness is possible without receiving an apology from the person or people who hurt me. It is a decision to release what someone did to me and focus on how I can use the hurt to grow. We never know when someone will take their last breath, so it’s best to let things go. Most times, what people do to us has everything to do with them and little to do with us.
The next thing to work through was being molested when I was around 10, and groped during school and walking home from school in junior high. So many times, I felt like I betrayed myself because I didn’t yell for help when I was being abused or tell my family what happened. I wondered how someone could love me when I didn’t love myself enough to speak up. I felt weak, and like I deserved everything that happened to me.
Each time I spoke of my pain though, healing filled my wounds. I felt strength rise from within me, my voice becoming a tool for me to heal myself.
Journaling was another way I found healing. Every day, I wrote to God, being honest about my emotions and thoughts, just like the scriptures in the book of Psalms. The more open I was, the more comfort, peace and love I felt wash over me. God quickly became more real and accessible to me, and now I know what it feels like to have a relationship with the One who created me.
Since then, I’ve been blogging, sharing my journey to wholeness, of self-love, faith and growth. Through the pain, I discovered one of my purposes.
Loss has taught me a lot about life. The main things are that God is a healer; life isn’t promised and every moment we breathe is a gift; don’t live life passively, but intentionally; forgiveness frees the heart, soul and mind to love; pain can open the door to freedom from what holds us back; and I have a choice regarding what I do with my pain. I can either let it destroy me or use it to restore me.
How have you dealt with the grief of losing a loved one?
Sharee Silerio is a St. Louis-based freelance writer, Film and TV writer-producer, and blogger. When she isn’t creating content for The Root or The St. Louis American, she enjoys watching drama/sci-fi/comedy movies and TV shows, writing faith and self-love posts for SincerelySharee.com, relaxing with a cup of chai tea, crafting chic DIY event décor, and traveling. Review her freelance portfolio at ShareeSilerio.com then connect with her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.